“Don’t bother people for help without first trying to solve the problem yourself.” – Colin Powell


I thought I would use this quote from General Colin Powell as we get closer to Veteran’s Day. I like this quote because it reminds me that we need to “see” the problem so that we can start to find an appropriate solution. I don’t think Gen. Powell was trying to say that if you if have no expertise in that area that you should try to solve the problem. I think he is trying to say that instead of just going to your boss and telling him or her that there is a problem and off-loading it on them, you should try to take ownership of the issue.


This would happen to me all the time when I was a supervisor. My technicians would come up to me and say “We have a problem” and then the ‘20 questions’ game would begin. I would ask them questions that I know my boss would want answers to. So I realized that I needed to train my techs on how to present the problem to me. It didn’t take long before they realized that when they brought a problem to me they would anticipated the questions I would ask them and they would be ready with answers. This allowed them to start to take ownership of the problem. Many times they already had the answer and just wanted to run it by me, ask my opinion or present viable options. I hope in a small way I was able to help the technicians have a little more control and ownership over their work.

 “Know-how” alone isn’t enough! You need to “know-why.” – Shigeo Shingo

Tony Manos from 5S Supply and Robert Miller from Shingo PrizeI had the honor and privilege to introduce the final key note speaker, Robert Miller, at the First Annual Visual Workplace Summit in Salt Lake City last Thursday. Mr. Miller is the Executive Director of the Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence. Bob used this quote during his inspiring address to remind us that it is timeless principles that lead us to operational excellence and not just the tools.

The Shingo Prize started in 1988 to educate, assess and recognize organizations that were able to sustain operational excellence. The new version of the criteria has been revamped to help companies focus on guiding principles (or ‘concepts’ as Dr. Shigeo Shingo would call them) as a way to instill values, systems, tools, results that create a culture of success.

A couple of key points that I took away were that to achieve operational excellence we should look at principles first, systems second and then to the tools, but many times we start [Lean implementations] with the tools to help create a system that has no or little effect (or worse, a deleterious effect) on our values.

Another key point is the structure or amount of time different levels of an organization should spend focusing on principles, systems and tools. Top management should focus much of the energy on the organizational principles. Middle management would probably spend most of their effort on creating effective and efficient systems. The associates [value-adders] would then spend most of their strength with the tools. BY allow each level to focus on these areas will help build a strong culture of achievement.

I would like to personally thank Bob for taking time from his busy schedule to speak to the Summit attendees and I appreciate all the effort that went into creating this model of operational excellence. I encourage everyone to learn more about it, please go to http://www.shingoprize.org/.

Who knows, maybe you’ll even apply for the award one day.